Last October, actress Huong Hoang (a.k.a. Junie Hoang) made headlines when she decided to (anonymously) file a lawsuit against Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and it’s parent company Amazon.com when her birthdate was posted to the site, claiming she was losing work due to the old Hollywood ageism machine.
The story dropped from sight as quickly as it began…until now.
This last Monday saw the first day of opening arguments and it was then things started getting pretty real. Right off the bat, IMDb objected to Hoang’s witness pool as the list was not disclosed to them before start of the trial and both IMDb and Hoang objected several things that involved excluding items of evidence.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, this is what the motions looked like:
- Hoang tried to exclude testimony about her submission of false identification documents to IMDb, but the court denies this request;
- Hoang also requested the exclusion of (1) who initially submitted her 1978 birthdate, (2) her tax returns and (3) copies of her passport and driver’s license. The court also denied these requests.
- IMDb asked the court to exclude a slew of exhibits (such as other actors’ profiles) not previously identified by Hoang; the court grants this;
- The court grants IMDb’s request to exclude “testimony about ageism in Hollywood” – the court directs the parties to not use the term “age discrimination” during the trial due to its potential for confusing the jury;
- IMDb also sought to exclude third party opinions about IMDb’s practice of revealing actors’ dates of birth, and the court grants this as well.
So basically, her “ageism” argument (a BIG chunk of her lawsuit) won’t be addressed in front of the jury and she has to provide information of who “supposedly” did her IMDb for her.
Right off the bat, I gotta tell ya it smells shady when you’re suing over an incorrect age yet don’t want to show proof of it. ’78 and ’71 is a HUGE difference in age, man; if an official site got MY age wrong, I’d bring in my own MOTHER to verify me.
On Tuesday, Hoang, her agent Joe Kolkowitz and IMDb customer service manager Giancarlo Cairella took the stand and things got really real. As IMDb is pretty much the Hollywood industry “look book”, of course the case turned to how actors make a living and is there a correlation between how much actors are cast once their ages are revealed on the site.
As the trial is focused on whether or not IMDb had the right to use her personal information, where her “second” age was revealed when she had signed up for IMDbPro, which allows actors to post their resume and other pertinent info for casting directors and the like as well as a “STARmeter” ranking (which shows how much traffic your page is getting weekly) for a monthly or yearly fee (I also have said Pro account).
Then came the cross-examination…
When IMDb’s lawyer Harry Schneider and Hoang went over her tax returns, he pretty much said that she didn’t really make all that much money from acting and her deducted expenses outweighed the money she actually made. Hoang claimed her income from acting was in the ballpark of the $1000-$2000 range but her deductions totaled $987 for hair and make-up, $318.86 for shoes and $523 for “miscellaneous expenses”, leading Schneider to imply that Hoang’s acting career is really “more of a hobby and less of a serious occupation.”
But it was when Schneider then went over the IMDb user agreement with Hoang (where users promise to submit accurate information) is when it got down and dirty, with Schneider asking Hoang “You knew you were obligated to make sure the information you provided [to IMDb] was true and accurate, didn’t you?” like a scratched CD.
Recent pic of Hoang on set shooting a pilot. Looks pretty dang good for 42!
After being confronted with the incorrect birthdate initially filed, entering information through accounts other than hers (which sharing accounts and passwords is CLEARLY stated as a no-no ) and attempting to convince an IMDb customer service rep that someone else had submitted the original documents (including a fake passport and fake I.D.), Hoang finally admitted that she did indeed submit inaccurate information; especially when it came to getting her birthdate deleted. But Hoang then pointed the finger at her previous handlers, claiming it was THEY who initially messed up.
Her agent Joe Kolkowitz then took the stand and opined that there is indeed a bias against actors who play “younger than their age,” and if their real age becomes known, can possibly kill their career. HOWEVER, on cross-exam he also admitted that while there are a “variety of factors that influence decisions on whether or not to hire an actor, talent is a big part of that decision,” and openly admitted that he didn’t even know her true age until the lawsuit filing AND that he couldn’t say for sure that her age on IMDb was the reason she wasn’t getting as much work, auditions, and “no knowledge regarding monetary loss from loss of roles.”
THEN there’s Giancarlo Cairella, IMDb’s customer service manager, who on the stand discussed the importance of accuracy but sidestepped the question of whether he personally felt if “accuracy [was] more important than privacy.” He then went on to say that customer service reps tend to use aliases when having to respond to customer service emails (most of said names coming from the Alfred Hitchcock classic North By Northwest) and that he himself has an IMDb profile from funding film through Kickstarter but it doesn’t list his birthdate.
Fair? NOPE. When I first received my IMDb account, I added my birthdate because I thought it was required, only to find out that it WASN’T. So when I contacted IMDb to have JUST the birth year removed, I was told it wasn’t possible (IMDb has a policy of never deleting information but rather replacing with new info, as was pointed out by Hoang’s lawyers) and that at some point EVERYONE would be required to disclose their birthdate…so how come Cairella doesn’t but everyone else does?
So what’s the outcome gonna be here? I’m pretty sure it’s gonna come out in IMDb’s favor but even if Hoang loses the suit, there could be some changes implemented as far as IMDb’s policies go. I, for one, would like to know why known rapists and sexual offenders (including acts against children) still have IMDb profiles.
And before you ask, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone else: “If you wanna know how old I am, check my IMDb.”
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